Theo Jansen is an artist who is building new forms of life.
He recently explained his universe to participants of the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference. You can watch his presentation here.
I know, I know. It's hard to accept the idea that his walking sculptures are a form of life, for God sake. But, well, listen to what he has to say before jumping to any conclusions. There is something awe-inspiring about his work. Something deeply playful. I found this on the TED site:
"His newest creatures walk without assistance on the beaches of Holland, powered by wind, captured by gossamer wings that flap and pump air into old lemonade bottles that in turn power the creatures' many plastic spindly legs. The walking sculptures look alive as they move, each leg articulating in such a way that the body is steady and level. They even incorporate primitive logic gates that are used to reverse the machine’s direction if it senses dangerous water or loose sand where it might get stuck."
This is fun stuff. Maybe the very stuff of fun. Art, science, vision, and deep, deep playfulness.
A few months ago, I wrote about some wonderful puzzles from Think Fun. I received the following comment from Bogusia Gierus. She wrote:
"I happened upon your blog recently, and had fun reading it and enjoyed doing some of the puzzles you suggested. I wanted to introduce you to a puzzle I have developed. It's called: Hexa-Trex. It's a math puzzle, but doesn't require extreme knowledge of mathematics to have fun with it - only basic arithmetic is essential. The object of the puzzle is to find an pathway through all the hexagonal tiles that creates a valid math equation. It's a simple concept, but is challenging and fun for the 'puzzle' type of person. If you wish, check out the puzzles on my website, I try to post a new puzzle each day."
A few months later, she sent me a copy of her new book of Hexa-Trex puzzles. And it seemed pretty clear to me that it was time to let you know about this - about a teacher who has such a love for kids and learning and, most significantly, such a deep appreciation for the fun, the inherent fun that learning is all about. And about these gifts: the free, online treasury of Hexa-Trex puzzles, and this most puzzling, innovative little book of good, hard, fun - with numbers, even.
"These three boys were cruising along the side of the road with their toy cars as we drove by, while a fourth boy, a non-driver looks on. It is unlikely that these kids will ever own or drive a real car in their lifetime."
And yet, they made something new, and fun, clearly, very fun. We can feel sad for them that they have so little resources. We can feel even more sadness when we think about what they might be creating if they had the resources. (My guess, they'd be making dirt race courses for their children's size Power Wheels Kawasaki KFX Ninja Ultimate Terrain Traction mini-ATV.)
"MY IDEA," says author and originator Matthew White:
"If we took all the common graphic symbols floating around nowadays, would we have enough to make a viable hieroglyphic language? Would it be possible to translate Finnegan's Wake or Moby Dick entirely into dingbats, whim-whams and clip art?
"We'll go at it in two steps. First, let's harvest all the signs, symbols, icons, etc. in common use. For example, as I write this, I see dozens of standardized symbols at the top of this screen indicating copy, cut, paste, save, undo, print, etc. On the way to work this morning, I noticed 10 distinct graphic symbols on the elevator control panel -- up, down, open, close, stop, phone, alarm, fireman, handicapped and exit. In fact, now that I've spent a few months poking around and noticing these things, I've compiled a vocabulary of some 500 pre-existing symbols that some -- maybe most -- of you will recognize immediately.
"Second step, we fill the gaps. Rather than trying to draw a specific picture for every object and concept in human experience, let's instead use various combinations of our five hundred or so root glyphs to create compound words."
And a fine idea at that. So fine, that one might fail to notice that, elsewhere on this very site, exist an amazing compilation called the "Historical Atlas of the 20th Century. And, by golly, if that isn't just what it turns out to be. Complex. Detailed. Animated. In depth.
This guy, Matthew White, is doing some serious playing around here.
The Cardboard Tube Fighting League, despite appearances and adult-like anticipations, is a highly disciplined, well, maybe not highly, but at least somewhat disciplined play fight.
I exemplify by citing the admirably explicated rules:
First Rule of CTFL: Don’t break your tube. In a duel, the last person with an unbroken tube is declared the winner. In the event that both participants break their tubes at the same time, the game is a draw, and both duelists are considered losers.
No stabbing. Lunges involving tubes are never allowed under an circumstances. Participants who exhibit this behavior, will be ejected from the entire event.
Try not to work the face. Hitting people in the face is heavily frowned upon and can force your ejection from the event.
Once your tube is broken you must stop fighting.
To participate you must be using an official CTFL tube, which will be provided at the event, and have signed a release waiver.
You may not block your opponents tube with your arms hands or legs.
Your tube must always be held near the bottom. Holding your tube in the middle at any time is illegal.
"Going 'out to play' when the bell rings at school for example, shifts the balance of power somewhat. Activity becomes self generated. Children are very clear about what is play and what is a lesson, and they see the two as very different. Physical education as a subject is assessed and grades are awarded for co-operation and attentiveness, i.e. doing what you are told and not talking. Play, during breaks in teaching, is under the control of the participants themselves, as adult supervision is less intrusive (although this is rapidly changing, see debate on Recess in America).
"'When we don't have recess, I feel like screaming. When we do have recess, I do scream!' US Girl."
"When in control of their play activities children also will try to generate excitement. Easy activities are modified to make them more difficult and so produce uncertain outcomes. This keeps children interested and challenged. And they therefore develop better physical skills to cope. In Norway at the ground-breaking playground at Skudeneshavn primary in Karmoy, once rope swings were mastered, children would next try to overload them, to the point where they would all fall off. Better players at particular sports would also handicap themselves to make games more exciting (e.g. table tennis). The Norwegian philosophy sees learning as a series of "building blocks", where everything attempted is safely routed in something that has already been achieved.
Did you know that there's a veritably amazing collection of movies, online, free, courtesy of the voluminously virtual virtues of the Internet Archives? Well, did you?
What does this have to do with fun and games, you might ask. Search, and you will find. For example, this one, part of their Open Source Movie collections, is from Don Ratcliff's study of children's free play in a hallway and on a playground. He explains "Video recorded on an elementary school playground, for comparison with video data in the same school's hallway, conducted for my dissertation research. To access a similar video clip of the hallway, go to http://www.archive.org/details/playground1. Four other video clips of the hallway are available by changing the last digit in the address to a 2, 3, 4, or 5."
Ratcliff's complete dissertation can be found here.
When my son was in high school, in Palo Alto, amongst the various nascent luminaries that he gathered about him was a fellow named Jed Hartman. Turns out that among his many other activities, Jed is the author of Words and Stuff - a wonderful set of columns about playing with language.
Progress the ball, progress the ball, Perambulate over the turf!
...and this pith, purportedly from Princeton:
Integration, derivation, L'Hospital's rule, fight! e to the x, e to the x, e to the x, dy, dx, Cosine, secant, tangent, sine, Three point one four one five nine, Label the axes y and x, Hell with football, we want sex!
Hie thee hastily to the Index of all posts, therefore, where a vast and voluptuous vimful of verbal vicissitudes awaits; amongst which, such treasures as Jed's essential post on the true and exact nature of Mondegreens
You, you Coworkers of the World your very selves, yes, you who are assembled together online, you, the very people this is about.
You are the people connected in these words at this moment, virtually here because you want to be connected, because it’s fun.
And, a short paragraph later, you are still here - because you are still having fun reading something about yourself, and maybe even each other.
At any moment, you could disappear, leaving barely a trace, if you so willed. Not an email address, not a URL or even a user name.
You are the Coworkers. You are the connected ones. You are the ones making connections.
You write together, make music together, chat together, you email and blog, you text and twitter. Because you like it. You like the work you do, online, face- even to-face. You like the conversations you co-create, you like working the way you like working with the people you like working, uh, with.
You work the way you like working, where you like working, when you like working, wearing what you like. You work with people the way you like working with people. You like working. You have fun working. You like yourselves.
And even though any one of you could pop, like a bubble, disappear like a magician, you are reliable as rocks, oh yeah, uh-huh. Could hang up. Change avatars. Block email. Instead you are prolifically productive, remarkably reliable. Even though at any time you can any or all of you go pop.
You communicate, you collaborate, you coliberate. You are free and work freely with each other. Each of you freeing the other, each of you making it possible for each of you to work at our best.
You are the new generation, the regeneration of hope for work and worker and workplace. Because you have fun. Because you work better.
You are the workers of the web. You are the Coworkers, Rejoice!
You have the access, you use the access, you create access for others.
You are the workplace. And many of you do it for free. It’s so much fun doing it, so somehow rewarding, and it’s real work, Internet-enabled. You who blog and twitter and share photos, videos, documents, desktops.
So much fun is this workplace that many of you pay to work here.
Writing, reading, making intangible things together for each other. Movies and slide shows and blogs and For free. For fun. For real.
So rejoice, I say. Rejoice in your place in the placeless presence. Rejoice. Rejoice. Intrepid, interdependent, international, Coworker that you are.
"You need a table, lubricated with washing-up liquid and water, and a disc."
And thus we learn about yet another Junkyard Sport-like event: Tabletop Frisbee-spinning. True in all its dimensions to the nature of sportish events, it involves timing and grace, agility and focus, and has the potential to astound.
Artist Trading Cards - cards, made by artists, traded by artists with other artists who have also made Artist Trading Cards.
That's it. There are no other rules. Except that to be official Artist Trading Cards (with capitals), "ATC must be 2.5"x3.5", or 64x89mm." There are some conventions that this writer explains:
"First, an ATC mustn't be sold, only exchanged, as the whole essence of these tiny works of art is about artists meeting (by correspondence or online if need be) and exchanging their works, thus meeting many artists and getting exposed to many personal styles. Second, on the back of each ATC the artist writes part or all of the following information: name, contact information, title of the ATC and number (1/8, 2/8...) if it's part of an edition. By definition ATCs are made in limited numbers, often no more than one of a kind. Unique ATCs are called originals; sets of identical ATCs are called editions and are numbered; sets of ATCs that are based on one theme but that are different are called series. Don't be intimidated by the concept of small editions or originals: very few people are anal about this. What most collectors really want are cards that were made with care. Based on that, numbers are meaningless."
It's a Funcast already at last! From my keynote address at the Atlanta NASAGA conference. FYI. Thinking about games and magic, I came up with Half-Belief. And said something like:
Like magicians with their tricks, we, with our games transform reality – changing a group of business executives into a Polynesian choral society, or to a group of egg-safety engineers, trapped in a burning spaghetti factory with thirty minutes to get two dozen eggs safely out the third storey window.
Masters of illusion, you ride the line that separates the two halves, the believing from the doubting. We get people to half-believe in the truth of what they’re playing. While helping them separate the magic from the miracle, play from for real, contest from context.
We are artificers of shared illusions, architects of half-belief. Masters of jocular inscrutability.
It is find one's way to a conceptual cornucopia of cunningly contrived conundra. It to read the misleadingly brief instructions many times. It is Blackflip, a virtual puzzle, a plethora of puzzles, participatory, too, because you can make your own puzzles and leave notes on the ones you solve and stuff.
Start anywhere. Draw a continuous line through the tiles you want to flip so that the tiles in each row, when flipped, match. There is continuous music.
You can play all you want. There is continuous music. Of a space-time-continuum probing sort.
My space-time got tired of the music long before I got tired of the puzzles. Ah, the puzzles! Oh, the puzzles! I say to myself and now you. Such a simple premise. So well-presented. Sometimes so elegantly devious. So subtle. So many puzzles.
Blackflip is a tribute, the designers say, to Nintendo's game Polarium. That, in turn, explains everything.
Well, all right, it explains one thing - that the cross-over between game system and Internet definitely goes both ways. And what a welcome cross-over it can be.
It was 2007. October 11. The morning of. Let's say mid-morning. In Atlanta. At the North American Simulation and Gaming Association conference. During my workshop, during which I had planned to spend 90 minutes exploring the various learning ramifications of what I somewhat blithely referred to as: The Junkyard Sports Paradigm.
Because it was NASAGA , and because the people who had registered for my workshop had listened to my keynote and were still planning to come, I found myself inspired enough to want to try something brand new - something I had thought about for many a month, but hadn't as yet actually tried.
And thus was held the world's first Junkyard Sports® Tabletop Olympics.
We had three groups of about 5 players each. Each group was seated around a banquet-worthy round table (officially called a "round").
Their assignment: using whatever you can find in your pocket or purse or elsewhere, create a miniature, tabletop, Olympic-like event.
What you are seeing in this photo is one such event - the High Dive Ski-Jump. The Jumper/Diver (a.k.a. "quarter") is being coached by participant Dave Matte to roll between the two blockish objects (hence kept on edge, so to speak), down the notebook-like ramp, hopefully to land in the glass of water. Yes, some points were awarded for hitting the glass or chair, even. A second team-member, the Jumper/Diver retriever, stood off camera, waiting to catch the rolling quarter before it reached the floor, for that critical extra point.
This was, as you have so intuitively grasped, but one of a minor Olympic myraid of tabletop events, such as, for example, the High Cup Jump, depicted here. Unfortunately, so enraptured were we with our collective cleverness and so deeply impressed by our finger-powered feats of athletic prowess, that we forgot to take any other pictures. And so, the memory fades. The world's first Olympic Croquet game, for example - played with many coins and paperclips and things, simultaneously, in the round - now, despite lingering echoes of all that laughter, partly remembered, partly imagined.
Yes, yes, I wax poetic. Because the Junkyard Sports Tabletop Olympics is everyrthing I had hoped it would be, more than I could possibly have dreamed it would become. An invitation to laughter and teamwork, to creativity and sharing, to surprise and appreciation. Regardless of position, age, gender, family, nationality. And all you need is whatever you have. Pocket junk. A table. People to play with.
From the online Village Voice, a virtual gallery dedicated to artistic Bart Simpson creations. Really. And you can watch it like a slide show, not just a picture or a picture-by-picture, but as sit-back-and-watch. Click on this link and watch for a while. From, like I said, the online Village Voice, 50-Plus Artistic Visions of Homer's Kid.
How fun is that? An online gallery with a dynamic slde show, so many images of clearly silly works by the Bart Simpson-inspired artist. A celebration of art as fun. And vice versa.
I grow sometimes suspicious of these things that use fun for a purpose, and there's something quasi-religious about gratitude, but, for G-D's sake, already, the Gratitude Dance is good, sweet fun, loving fun - just the kind of fun you'd want to think of your teens having, just the kind of fun that even your silly old self might want to be having with them.
catbishop's Recycled Assemblage photoset, is what you might call it. Wonderfully faith-restoring signs of playfulness, is what I see. Junk, genuine junk, like, for example, a dirtbike gas tank, a bocce ball, a jigger, and two gooseneck lamp bases, transformed into a, well, duck. Or something enough like a duck to be clearly ducky, duckish, and ducklike.
"Antietam Drive. To the untrained eye, it's just a quiet, rain-soaked suburban Jersey road on a rather warm February morning. To a man whose lived almost his entire life on this road, save for the first few weeks of infancy & four years of college not in a row, it's the still remains of an Olympianesque game arena. Sure, there are still children who live on this street, & I'm sure they love it dearly, if not now then when it's their turn to grow up. But they don't play on every square inch of it like my friends & I did. They can't look at that picture & point out at least 5 prime hiding spots. Or a bike ramp, or a finish line, or second base."
Thus begins Mike Fireball's historic tour of his neighborhood, seen from the unique perspective of a kid at play. Here's more:
"After dinner, my front porch there became the jail for a nighttime game of what we called Jailbreak, & what you probably know as Manhunt or Freedom or Spring... or whatever you called the "1-2-3 you're my man no breaksies" variation of tag with teams. Odd how an entire country of children can play the same game & call it by a different name. Not as odd as the fact that an entire country of children used to pretend that the floor was lava & the couch was some kind of magic, lava-resistant boat, but still something of note."
Marbles. Ah, marbles. I don't know if you've managed to read "A Million Ways to Play Marbles, at Least" - originally included in the appendix of The Well-Played Game. In it's own silly way, it reflects pretty much everything I know about the nature of games. And if you have read it, perhaps you'd enjoy hearing me read it.
But whether you've heard it or read it, the important thing is that you've played it. And here, for your conceptual delectation, a significant and well-illustrated collection of marble games from the veritable Land of Marbles, itself.
The Recycled Plastic Bottle Tree Hangings of Russia
Recycled, plastic bottle, tree hangings - somewhere in Russia, boquets of plastic bottles hang like chandeliers from tree branches. They are silly. They do not cast light. And yet, they shed light. They are beautiful, and they restore hope, and connect us a little more intimately, transnationally, to the very thing we all are playing for.